Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Bruce's Car of the Week: Volkswagen Golf VR6 Mk3

It is Monday, which means it's time for my exciting new feature, car of the week! An excuse for me to look at cars on the interweb. As this is my first ever car of the week I am going to do more than just post up a link to Carsales.com.au and be done with it. No, instead I'm going to elaborate a little, which only seems right given that this weeks car is one of my all time favorites, the Volkswagen Golf, the Mk3 variant to be precise.

For a long time the Mk3 Golf has been regarded as the runt of the Golf family. It never really lived up to the brilliance of the Mk2 and was outclassed in 1998 when the Mk4 replaced it, moving the Golf image upmarket in the process. In the grand scale of Golfs it represents the difficult chubby teenage years, lacking in quality and character compared to its father the Mk2 and posh younger brother the Mk4.

Choices, choices 

The Mk3 GTI never made it to Aus
However as time has passed these thorns in the Mk3's side have withered and here in Australia where Mk2 Golfs are rarer than Unicorn tears and Mk4's still command quite high dollar, even for lowly 1.6 litre auto's, the Mk3 starts to look like pretty good value. There is a lot of Mk3 choice out there from 3 or 5 door hatchback to convertible and the absolute pinnacle of the Golf range in the 90's made it's way down under too, the VR6. Arguably one of the best sounding hatch backs of all time. It is unfortunate that Australia never officially got a Mk3 GTi, but getting the VR6 definitely makes up for that as they now represent not only a wondrous engine note but a potential investment opportunity. If other classic performance Golfs are anything to go by the VR6 is in line for a payday given a few more years to mature.

Maybe a bit too low?!
Now I'm aware it is very much a personal thing but since its launch in 1992 I think the Mk3 has grown into its chubby dimensions and got better with age. It's also reassuring, I feel, knowing you have a VW badge on your car, it may sound ridiculous but honestly having owned a fair few you feel ever so slightly smug.

The image

Volkswagen's also have a unshakably cool image surrounding them, probably the years of Beetles and Kombi buses being driven by hippies helped this come about. The guys over at Mighty Car Mods certainly thought so too when they did their budget street cred film with a Mk3. Admittedly I wouldn't pour beer all over my car to give it street cred, but where I live in Byron Bay, if you lowered a Mk3 enough, put some nice wheels on it and strapped a surfboard to the roof you'd probably get a few admiring glances. A rightful air to the Beetle's "cool dude" image I think.  

Strap a surf board to this and your onto a winner
This exact car

Car of the Week!

Ok I feel I've sung the Mk3's praises enough, so here without further ado is my car of the week, a totally standard 1994 Golf VR6, $6000

The noise 

Oh and in case you want to hear what that glorious engine sounds like watch the video below, its mainly a bunch of European men fannying around but the noises are awesome, especially the opening double drive by.


New European car deals Australia

Off the back of my last post I understand that some of you out there might not be as keen as me to purchase an old, quite so cheap European car. So to rectify this I am going to the other end of the spectrum today to show you how reasonably priced a brand spanking new Euro can be here in Australia.

Fair Comparisons 

With so many models in each companies range though I could get overwhelmed merely quoting prices. So in a bid to keep things relatively simple I am going to focus on one type of car, a car the majority of European manufacturers do best, the basic to mid range hatch back. By giving a direct comparison to some similarly spec'd Japanese, Korean and Australian rivals hopefully it will be clear that buying European is not such an expensive business.


Also as well as that all important purchase price there is another key barrier that prevents people choosing a Euro in Australia and that is the perceived running and servicing costs being high. So in a bid to debunk this myth too and prove that the cars can be maintained just as cost effectively as their Asian counterparts I'm going to give the price for a 12 month service on each car. 

The Contenders 

To a selection of Europe's offerings first, the Renault Megane, Citroen C4, Peugeot 308, Skoda Octavia and Volkswagen Golf all with manual gearboxes except the Renault. 

Volkswagen Golf 90TSI Comfortline

  • $29,034*
  • Frugal 1.4 turbo capable of 5.4L/100km, refined German styling and build quality 
  • 5.8 inch touchscreen, cruise control, reversing camera, auto wipers
  • Multiple safety systems
  • 3 year unlimited km warrant and fixed price servicing (£330)

Citroen C4 Seduction (awful name by the way)

  • $27,716*
  • To quote Citroen, the C4 features a serene ambiance, what more do you want?
  • Cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, MP3 CD radio, multifuction steering wheel
  • 6 year unlimited km warranty and breakdown cover and 6 year fixed price servicing ($330)
  • Economy of 6.2L/100km

Renault Megane GT-Line

  • $26,990*
  • Sat Nav, rain sensing wiper, auto lights, parking sensors, 17" alloys 
  • 5 year unlimited KM warranty and 5 year Aussie wide breakdown cover
  • 3 year fixed priced servicing ($299)
  • Economy of 5.4L/100km

Skoda Octavia Ambition Plus

  • $26,790*
  • Powerful but economical 1.4 litre turbo engine capable of 5.2L/100km (DSG)
  • Sedan like body provides more space over rivals 
  • 5.8 inch touchscreen sound system and heap of driver aids
  • 3 year unlimited km warrant and fixed price servicing ($286)

Peugeot 308 Access (admittedly this is the base model, but it is brand new to Aus)

  • $25,449*
  • Fresh design, winner of the 2014 European car of the year
  • LED Daytime running lights, Air con, Bluetooth and USB connectivity
  • 3 year 100,000km warranty, 5 year fixed priced servicing ($297)  
  • Economy of 4.6L/100km

The Competition

Now compare those specs and prices to the Asian and Australian options, the Kia Cerato, Hyundai i30, Toyota Corolla and Holden Cruze.

Kia Cerato Si 

  • $29,490*
  • Auto headlights, Keyless entry
  • 7 year unlimited km warranty 
  • Fixed price servicing ($286)
  • Economy of 7.4L/100km

Toyota Corolla Levix SX

  • $27,460*
  • 17 inch alloys, sat nav, reversing camera, 6.1 inch LCD touchscreen
  • Fixed priced servicing for the first 6 services at $130
  • 3 year 100,000km warranty
  • Economy of 7.1L/100km

Hyundai i30 Elite CRDi

  • £27,190*
  • Torque rich turbo diesel with economy of 4.5L/100km
  • Touch screen sat nav, auto wiper and headlights, rear view camera
  •  5 year unlimited km warranty
  •  Lifetime of fixed priced servicing ($260)

Holden Cruze SRi

  • $26,386*
  • 18 inch alloys, heated front seats, smartphone connectivity, sat nav
  • 3 year, 100,000km warranty 
  • 3 years of capped priced servicing ($180) 
  • Economy of 6.2L/100km

My choice of cars is by no means exhaustive, these are merely a random selection of the cars for sale right now. I should also point out that yes, by picking a more basic trim level to ones I picked you can dramatically affect price, but I just wanted a like for like comparison. Interestingly though if you take advantage of VW and Skoda's run out 2014 offers on their most basic trim levels some extraordinary value can be had. Base models of both the cars listed here can be driven away for £22,990.

To conclude, this whole exercise is not intended to be some hatred fueled rant against Korean or Japanese cars, I'm a lover of all things on four wheels. I can see for example that the Holden and Toyota have very appealing servicing costs and that the Korean pair have huge warranties not to be sniffed at. This is also not a comparative road test, that would be unfair as I've not driven them all. What I hope to have achieved though is show that picking a European hatch over the others does not have to be as expensive as some people would have you believe. All the cars here are within $4000 of each other and in some cases it can even cost less to buy Euro in the first place.   

*Prices are subject to location, dealer and current offers. 

Pictures shown are not of the exact specifications listed courtesy of Newspress & GM Corp

Monday, 24 November 2014

Super Cheap Euro's

A couple of days ago my opening blog post proclaimed that European cars, despite scaremongering, are actually good value in Australia. So not wanting to leave that statement hanging I think it is only right that I back it up with some hard facts.So in a bid to prove my point I've hit the internet hard and gone to the extreme by finding the cheapest European motors I could for sale right now with rego (at the time of writing).

Before starting though I do want to point out a couple of things, these cars are quite old, some probably bordering the classic realm in fact. They may not be to everyone's taste but they are proof non the less that cheap European cars are out there, from Darwin to Melbourne and over to Perth. My second point is that I'm not proclaiming to be a genius or messiah like figure by finding these cars, anyone can search Gumtree for goodness sake! I just hope that by putting a fair few together on the same page you can start to appreciate what sort of choice is out there, even at rock bottom prices.

Let me start with some Germans, arguably the epitome of the European car industry, they are the benchmark setters that everyone else tries to beat. Firstly I have found 2 mid 90's Audi 80's, one automatic with a stonking great 2.6 litre V6 and the other a more sedate 2 litre manual. Both cars appear lovingly cared for and can be had for under $1500.

1995 Audi 80 2.6E, $1450   
1995 Audi 80 2.0E, $1000

Do you want more luxury for your dollar though? How about these next two, a pair of Mercedes Benz W124 E-Class's. One a sedan and the other a wagon they both come with rego well into 2015, with the W124 series being renowned world over as one of the toughest cars ever built they look like a pretty good buy to me.

1988 Mercedes E230 Wagon, $2000
1993 Mercedes E220 Sedan, $1500 

Or what about a cheap runabout with a name synonymous for being good at just about everything? Try this Volkswagen Golf in quite rare 3 door guise. Yes it needs a bit of work cosmetically but for $700 you can't really go wrong!

1996 VW Golf 3 door, $700

Ok moving away from Germany, how about some rear wheel drive Italian flair? Yes old Alfa's are
the butt of many, many reliability jokes, but someones given this classic 75 a roadworthy certificate so it must be alright for the moment! Plus it's been traded at a dealership so clearly they feel it's good enough. And as the seller rightly says these are fast becoming collectors items, this cars a potential money maker given a few years.

1989 Alfa Romeo 75, $1500

No trip around the car manufactures of Europe would be complete without a look at the French offerings. Thankfully this low budget search puts us right in the realms of Peugeot's design and driver enjoyment sweet spot, the late 80's and early 90's, after this the cars got a little, shall we say "merde". First up is a pretty Pininfarina designed 306 3 door hatch which the seller claims has only had 1 previous owner, it even has a warranty on it until May 2015. While the other is a larger 405 sedan, still styled by the famous Italian design house, this car has a 1.9 litre turbo diesel engine.

1995 Peugeot 306 XR, $1950

1994 Peugeot 405, $1650

Lastly I have picked a Volvo 240, that just happens to be for sale up the road from me. The 240 is immediately recognisable as the archetypal symbol of Sweden's car industry. Even if you don't give a monkeys about cars there are some you will just know and the Volvo sits up there with the Mini and VW Beetle.

1984 Volvo 240, $1800  

That beautiful Swedish box brings an end to my search, which by no means was exhaustive, there are Citroen's, Saab's and even a Range Rover out there for under $2000. I'm aware all the cars I've listed above will not be for sale forever and that rego's will expire. However, I hope it proves my point that picking up a bargain European car is possible in Australia and I for one am pretty dam pleased about that.

Photo's are the original (very red and silver) press release images from the manufacturers courtesy of Newspress

Friday, 21 November 2014

Holden commit to an EU sourced line up

Holden VF Commodore 
Holden have confirmed that with the demise of the Australian built Commodore in 2017 the company will source its vehicles from GM's European divisions, namely Opel (or Vauxhall if your British like me). So what does this mean for Australian buyers? Will the cars be any good? Lets see what Holden have confirmed they'll be offering and how you could get your hands on one right now.

Early invasion 

Holden are preparing the market for the import invasion early, announcing three models coming to these shores in 2015. This will hopefully ease the hysteria when the Commodore dies a couple of years later. Announced for release are the Astra GTC/VXR, Cascada convertible and Insignia hatch.

The Insignia

The Insignia seems like an appropriate place to start, as it will take the crown of the largest car in Holden's range after the Commodore. Despite it's saloon profile the Insignia is a hatch back that has been on sale in Europe since 2008. The car came as a welcome breath of fresh air for Opel/Vauxhall when it replaced the mind numbingly boring Vectra. In 2013 it was face lifted to keep the design sharp and I for one really like the way the car looks. It has elements of coupe in the roofline and beautiful little touches like the crease in the doors and chrome trim that runs the width of the boot. A hotted up version of the Insignia, the VXR is expected to come this way too. It is even better looking thanks to a lower stance deeper bumpers and big wheels and serves up 321bhp (239kw) of turbo charged 2.8 litre V6 to all 4 wheels. If this car is given the HSV treatment it could be a pretty formidable machine.
Insignia VXR

The Astra

Continuing the VXR theme lets move onto the Astra already sold in Aus briefly as the Opel OPC. Unashamedly a hot hatch, the VXR is no shrinking violet with a massive body kit, equally large rear wing and 20 inch wheels, it's by no means ugly, just a bit in yer face. Powering the VXR is a 2 lite turbo producing 276bhp (205kw) which it sends, rather worryingly, to the front wheels only. In a bid to quell the rampant understeer VXR's are fitted with a mechanical limited slip diff and a HiPerStrut suspension set up, which do a pretty good job of keeping you pointed in the right direction. The lesser powered Astra GTC looses the body kit, wheels and limited slip diff, however it keeps the HiPerStrut suspension. Losing the body mods you can see the GTC is a well proportioned hatch thats trying to be a coupe and I look forward to its release here, sure beats a Hyundai i30 for kerb appeal.

The Cascada

The last car due for release in Aus is the Cascada. Essentially an Astra convertible the bosses at GM clearly wanted to give the car a classier image, hence the choice of name. I'm not convinced mainly because the Cascada name for me means awful dance music, but don't let that put you off as the car is gorgeous. A lovely fabric roof means the lines of the car are not destroyed by a massive bottom needed to conceal a folding hard top (here's looking at you Renault Megan CC). To drive expect the car to be softer than the Astra hatch on which its based, tuned more for cruising than high speed cornering. Naturally the Cascada will weigh more too with all the strengthening required when you chop a roof off and the body is likely to flex a little more if it is driven hard.
Pretty roof down...
And roof up


How much will they cost me?

Right then, that's the cars covered but how much will they cost?  The Commodore is a pretty bespoke Aussie product with a relatively small number being exported meaning the margins on making it profitable are quite small. The new breed of Holden's however will be mass produced in Europe for numerous markets resulting in them having much bigger margins. Meaning that despite the import costs they are still likely to be offered to buyers at competitive prices. Think around $30000 to $40000 for an Astra and more like $50000 to $60000 for the Insignia depending on spec.

Insider tip

This wouldn't be a very useful blog though if my my final words were, wait until next year and buy a brand new car would it? A car that's going to lose half its value the moment you drive it off the forecourt. So my final tip if you really want one but can't afford nor wait for one is, buy an Opel. You see Opel briefly existed in Australia between 2012 and 2013 before finances forced them out of the market. In that time they sold the Astra and Insignia and importantly they sold them in OPC form (that's just Opel's way of saying VXR). And guess what, these can be picked up right now for at least $10000 less than the price of the impending new ones, here are some I found on the web:

Opel Astra OPC $32000
Opel Insignia OPC $45990

With only a handful of these cars being sold you'll definitely be exclusive and don't worry about that exclusivity meaning no spare parts either, as once Holden start selling them in 2015 you can just take it to them for a service. It really couldn't be better, you get a rare car at a good price that's easy to service and when your mate tells you he's ordered a new VXR you can say, I've already got one of those!

Photo's: Newspress & GM Corp

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Welcome to the Gearbox

A Bit of Background

For a car enthusiasts like myself there was one thing that scared me about moving to Australia. Forget venomous spiders, killer great whites and the immense heat frying my fragile Scottish flesh. The real worry was would I be able to buy and continue appreciating the European cars I’d grown so accustomed to in the UK? A country where the classifieds are awash with bargain BMW M3’s, Golf R32’s and 205 GTi’s. A country where the manual gearbox is king and communities of like-minded enthusiast share knowledge and importantly cheap spare parts. In short a country where I was spoilt for choice.

Everyone I spoke to about Australia were under the impression that European cars where expensive, hard to come by and asked me, had I considered a Toyota Corolla as transportation instead? I’d been convinced into thinking owning anything from one of Europe’s car makers down under was (a) very difficult and (b) like committing financial suicide. I boarded the plane a very worried man.  

It was an MPS very much like this one
Things changed however when I started searching for cars, as it turns out the concept of an Audi is not alien and Benz’s are actually rather popular. Armed with renewed hope I added some German metal to the very Japanese list of cars I’d lined up to view. The first car I viewed however was a Mazda 3. After the initial chit chat I told the seller that I was intending to view a few Audi’s afterwards and it was his reaction that irritated me so much that it dam well helped make this blog a reality. In a rather confronting manner he said I would be an idiot to buy one, Audi’s are too much hassle in Aus.  Now, I’m fully aware he was probably saying this as a means to sell me his Mazda, but it still angered me and combined with what I had already seen online egged me on to disprove this belief that European cars are unattainable in Australia. 

Yes Australia may have missed out on getting some pretty wonderful cars officially imported over the decades. Citroen's nimble Saxo VTR for example, but real gems are out there, for either the enthusiast or just someone wanting to be seen in something a little different.

My aim

My aim is simple, to make people aware of what is for sale out there and maybe connect some people with their dream car. I’ll run in depth features on some cars and pick one car from the classifieds each week that catches my eye.  I hope to advise, enlighten, report on any motoring news stories that may be of interest and maybe conduct the odd review.

Keep in touch

This is my Audi
This is my first solo blogging effort and something totally new for me, so please let me know your thoughts, good or bad. Also if you happen to be reading this and have any tip offs about something good for sale let me know. Oh and for the record I bought a reasonably priced Audi A4 in the end and it was the best decision ever!

Enjoy the blog,

Bruce Jamieson